In today's hyper-connected world, it is becoming increasingly common for people to work together while not inhabiting the same physical space.
This is profoundly changing how we collaborate, how we organize, and how we cultivate team culture. Yet terms like "remote team" and "distributed team" are often used interchangeably. This can make discussing the nuances and challenges of these different operating models, tactics, and tools, confusing.
Here we propose a definition for the common terms which capture the different ways modern teams are working.
Works from a different location than other members of their team. Often from home or a co-working space.
"I usually work remote, because the commute across LA is cra’y."
A team of individuals who work in the same space, but in a different location to the company HQ or other teams they collaborate with.
"Our HQ is in SF, but we have a remote team near Union Square in NYC and another in Boston."
A team where members regularly work from multiple different locations.
"Our team is distributed. We have a couple of folks at HQ, and then everyone else is spread around the world."
Fully distributed team
A team where every individual is in a unique location. There will be only a few shared spaces, if any, and no HQ.
"We're fully distributed, so we come together once a year from all over the world."
A team or company where everyone works from the same physical office.
“Our team is co-located in Mountain View. I spend two hours a day on a bus to get to work.”
A working environment that is shared with people who don't work for the same company. The space will often be provisioned like a traditional office, with WiFi, snacks, drinks, and meeting rooms.
"We're fully distributed, but we do rent co-working space at a WeWork if people feel like meeting in person."
Hub and spoke
An operating model where there are a number of remote teams but the bulk of communication and coordination is routed through a central HQ, where most executives reside.
"Our team has a fair degree of autonomy, but the leads always fly out to SF for quarterly planning."
There are subtle, but important, differences between remote and distributed teams. When thinking about expanding your team beyond a single office or getting advice on best-practices, the first step is to make sure everyone’s talking about the same thing.